Writing for ESPN Insider, Dayn Perry of FanGraphs asks the question many among us have asked: What happened to Jason Heyward? (Link requires registration.) Using the best data known to man and computers, Perry offers this telling snapshot:
Heyward is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to line-drive percentage (17.8 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2011), infield pop-ups (8.4 percent to 24.7 percent) and batting average on balls in play (.335 to .245). In the case of his declining BABIP, there’s almost certainly some bad luck involved, but the remaining indicators are more troubling.
Additionally, he’s swinging at 44.8 percent of pitches overall, up from 39.4 percent last year; and he’s swinging at 28.7 percent out of the zone after hacking at just 24.2 percent of such offerings. Add it all up and you have a guy who’s hitting fewer line drives and more pop-ups and seems to have lost control of the strike zone.
We’ve noted before that Heyward is swinging more and accomplishing less. (His batting average and on-base percentage tell us that much.) We’ve also noted that this is the truly baffling part. Unlike, say, Jordan Schafer, who has struck out a lot at every level, Heyward arrived in the majors bearing the stamp of a young player who knew the strike zone and could work a count.
Many observers — from Bobby Valentine, who’s a jerk, and Chipper Jones, who’s not — have suggested that Heyward’s “mechanics” have gone, if you will, haywire. That can happen. Ask Dan Uggla. But the bit about “losing control of the strike zone” is the puzzling part. That’s not mechanical. That’s the part young Jason Heyward seemed to have down at age 20.
And now he just turned 22 and is playing behind the journeyman Jose Constanza. Baseball is the strangest of games — again, ask Dan Uggla — but I have to admit this Heyward thing has me baffled. I could not have imagined that the rookie who was so adept at figuring things out would have forgotten how to figure.
(Oh, one thing more: Perry mentions BABIP. That stands for “batting average on balls in play.” As a yardstick, statheads love BABIP. I find it hilarious. Whenever someone mentions BABIP, I want to ask, “What’s his batting average on balls not in play?” Pretty sure that’d be .000.)
Update: I’ve been reliably informed that home runs don’t count as “balls in play.” (Unless, I can only assume, they’re inside-the-park home runs.) So you can have a batting average above .000 on balls not in play. And yes, my eyes are glazing over.
By Mark Bradley